SNOWPIERCER begins with the unique premise that the Ice Age has returned and a train carrying the surviving members of the human race speeds on unabated. Although this is suggestive of an apocalyptic science-fiction story, the film breaks away from the conventions of the genre.
Director Bong Joon Ho first encountered the French graphic novel “Transperceneige,” on which SNOWPIERCER is based, in a bookshop near Hongik University in Seoul, South Korea, during the winter of 2005. He read through the entire volume while browsing in the store and became mesmerized by the cinematic potential of a train filled with bustling human lives hurling through the aftermath of a global apocalypse. He was determined to turn it into a film.
Bong was in pre-production on his third feature THE HOST when producer-director Park Chan-wook’s company Moho Film offered him a position as director. For a future project there, Bong suggested SNOWPIERCER, his own adaptation of “Transperceneige.” Park and Opus Pictures CEO Lee Tae Hun acquired the rights for the graphic novel and the project began to gather steam. For his work on the script, completed in late 2010, Bong remained true to the themes of his previous works, which examine the nature of human beings under extreme circumstances.
Beyond its “stateless” setting and story, SNOWPIERCER’s global pedigree extends to its impressive cast of actors playing the last survivors of the human race, including Hollywood action hero Chris Evans, veteran actor and director Ed Harris, Academy Award-winners Tilda Swinton and Octavia Spencer, Academy Award-nominee John Hurt, Korean maverick Song Kang-ho and Jamie Bell, Ewan Bremner, Alison Pill and Ko Ah-sung, among others.
For the part of Curtis, the leader of the uprising who guides passengers from the tail section through the body of the train into the front section, where the mythical engine is housed, Bong looked to Chris Evans, the American-born star of Marvel Comics adaptations, including the AVENGERS and CAPTAIN AMERICA films.
Tilda Swinton was among the first of the English-speaking cast members to sign on for SNOWPIERCER, having gained an appreciation for Bong’s work after seeing THE HOST and attending the 2009 Busan International Film Festival, where she expressed admiration for his work.
Korean actors Song Kang-ho and Ko Ah-sung, who played father and daughter in THE HOST, once again play father and daughter in SNOWPIERCER, portraying renegade drug addicts who hold the key to escaping the hermetically sealed train.
On the surface, SNOWPIERCER looks like a co-production, with top actors from countries like Korea, the U.S. and the U.K., as well as a multinational crew comprising people from across the globe, who assembled in the Czech Republic for the film’s 72-day shoot. But SNOWPIERCER is, in fact, a Korean production; key elements of the film, including its screenplay, director, production and distribution, all originated in Korea. Part of its financing, covering half the production costs, was secured at the American Film Market, where a 10-minute promo clip resulted in the film’s sale to 167 countries worldwide.
Production Designer Ondrej Nekvasil took on the task of building a train set that would be 650 meters long when laid out in a straight line. Thanks to his reputation in the Czech Republic film community, shooting on location went smoothly with the set installation team, the design team, and a props team composed entirely of Czechs. Equally important were the film’s visual effects, created by Eric Durst, who worked in post-production to create realistic computer graphics for the film’s intermittent glimpses at the frozen world outside the train.